Listening in A Quiet Place

October 25, 2018  Leave a comment

This is A Quiet Place, the film that tells the story of the Abbott family who find themselves living among monsters that hunt and kill everything they hear. To stay alive, the Abbotts must keep quiet and that silence makes for a unique film experience. With so little sound and spoken dialogue, we also, like this family, become aware of everything WE hear.

But the true heart of A Quiet Place goes beyond unique premise and experience with sound, to the way it deals with the concept of listening.

At the very beginning of the film, Father Lee Abbott tells his youngest son to listen – without ever making a sound, setting up a clear contrast between this word and its literal sense. Listening here isn’t about opening the ear to sound but rather about openings the heart to a message.

And heeding the message is what Lee’s children fail to do. His son fails to listen and is quickly killed by the monsters. While Lee’s oldest daughter, Regan, plays a role in her brothers death, giving him the toy that her father warned him against. She is literally and figuratively deaf, a threat to herself and her families survival which her father works to overcome for the rest of the film.

Like the best horror films, A Quiet Place has plenty of frights even as uses them to express deeper and more universal anxieties. And it’s the focus on what’s truly at stake which makes this film so special. Rather than lingering on the macrabe, A Quiet Place often feels more like a Norman Rockwell painting, with long stretches of peace and quiet, in which we’re invited to meditate on this otherwise idyllic family life. And it’s the ideal nature of this life which points to its representative quality. The Abbott’s aren’t just one family; they represent all families, what it means to be a family. It’s thus the things which threaten the peace and survival of family, diversion and death, which we find personified in the monsters. A symbolic role which is made evident in the climax of the film when for the first time we’re shown news articles referring to them as “angels of death”. The monsters represent and define the boundaries of life, killing anything that transgresses them. And it’s Lee’s role, as a father, to teach his kids to live by remaining within these boundaries. His name, Lee, means “the sheltered or protected side.” This is why the film shows him leading his family in a single file line and setting up safe – quiet pathways in which they can walk. And most significantly, it’s why he makes his daughter a new hearing aid.

The hearing aid symbolizes Lee’s correction and vicarious protection, his instruction which must be heeded in order to work. But Regan thinks it won’t work. And even though Three times we’re shown it working as the monsters’ singular weakness. She remains unaware of its power. All she knows is that it hurts. In trying to open his daughter’s ears, Lee only serves to remind her of the role she played in her brother’s death. She perceives her father’s efforts as him not liking who she is. And the third time she experiences the pain, she shuts it off completely

This is the true problem posed by the film. How do parents open their children’s ears to what pains them to hear?

The answer is found in Lee’s sacrificial love for his children.

Lee cries out to draw the monsters away but also to open his daughters ears, echoing the old man’s suicidal cry for loss of his wife and Evelyn’s life giving cry in birth. By these comparisons, the film suggests that a father in sacrificing his life for his kids undergoes a similar labor and delivery. And it’s Regan’s recognition and embracing of her father’s ear which symbolizes her new birth.

Regan not only listens she turns what she’s heard into something others can hear. And it’s this act which defeat the monsters. That… and her dad’s good old fashioned shotgun.

A Quiet Place is far more than a horror film; it’s a family film, intended to draw parents and kids together. Kids are meant to realize the reason for their parents instructions while parents are reminded that to open their children’s ears requires a love without condition.

Matthew Scott Miller

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